It is no secret to anyone on this website that I am a lover of all things Disney. In fact, Ive never rated a Disney theme park less than four stars. This may be why I have put off writing my review of Disney MG M Studios. Although there are some fine attractions here, the overall experience of a visit here as declined dramatically over the past few years. MGM has definitely lost some of its magic, and I hope it gets it back!
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Disney MGM Studios was the third major theme park added to Walt Disney World. It was originally intended to be not only a salute to the movies but also a working movie studio. The working movie studio aspect has become less and less prominent, particularly as the last group of cartoon animators were moved to California. Admission to MGM can be obtained either with a park-hopper ticket or a single day admission, which will run you about $63.00. MGM usually opens around 9:00 a.m. and hours extend from about 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. There is transportation available to the park from any of the other theme parks, the Disney resorts, or the Transportation and Ticket Center.
*Attractions with a star are must see attractions for a first time visitor)
The Great Movie Ride - While it may be slow-moving for some, I think this ride is classic Disney and the park needs more of this type of experience. The ride takes guests through a history of the movies, including scenes from Singing in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz, and Alien. The show has already been updated once since its creation, and I think another update to include more current films would make it very popular. The film at the end features scenes from major films to an exciting soundtrack. I think its worth riding for this little film alone because it is very touching.
*One Mans Dream - Although most dont, I really think every guest should view this 25 minute film about Walt Disney and his inspiration to create the parks. I spent a good half hour before the film just looking at all the memorabilia. The film was created to mark the 100th Anniversary of Walts birth and is a very tasteful tribute.
*Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Play It! - This interactive attraction is a nice addition to MGM. Guests enter a studio much like the popular TV programs and play along for an attempt to get in the hot seat. Contestants who make it to the front can win points toward Disney merchandise or even a cruise. The game is pretty addictive and many people finish playing and hop back in line. There are set show times for this attraction so check your schedule.
Backlot Tour - This was formerly two parts but has been condensed into a one part tour with a special effects demonstration and then a tram tour. The tram portion of the tour changes according to what is going on, but lately there hasnt been a lot going on here in terms of television or movie production so the ride is not that exciting these days. You will, however, visit Catastrophe Canyon. Ill let you guess how that turns out.
*Rockin Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith - This is a fun, if short, little roller coaster. The theme is that Aerosmith is having a party and you are invited, but must first travel through the LA freeways in the limo. This results in a wild ride with street signs lit in blacklight and several loops. I find the coaster to be fairly gentle and really enjoy it. FASTPASS is available for this attraction and riders must be 48 tall.
*The Twighlight Zone of Terror - This is a classic amusement park drop ride with a very impressive theme. Guests enter a dilapidated hotel and ride an elevator up to the thirteenth story, where they will enter the Twilight Zone and plunge back toward the ground (maybe more than once!) I dont personally care for this attraction that much because I dislike drops, but thrill-lovers will want to ride it again and again. Very long lines build for this attraction as it is relatively slow loading, so get your FASTPASS early in the day. Riders must be at least 40 tall.
*Fantasmic! - This show is very, very good. Fantasmic! uses water, boats, a mountain setting, film, and Disney characters to tell a story about Mickeys dream where good triumphs over evil. It plays at the end of the evening (selected evenings during slow times) in a giant ampitheater. Fantasmic! is one of my very favorite offerings at Disney MGM Studios and worth planning your schedule around.
Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage - This is basically a musical version of the popular Disney film, complete with dancing and dressed-up characters. I can take this show or leave it. The seating area is in the hot sun, and no one is really singing. If your kids love Belle, though, they probably wont notice. The show is performed at set times throughout the day so check your program.
Animation Court Yard
*The Magic of Disney Animation - I dismissed this show for the past couple of years because the animators are no longer housed at MGM. However, my mom and I visited last year and found it to be surprisingly charming. At that time, the show starred Mushu, the dragon from Mulan. He interacted back and forth with a live actor to tell the story of animation. Particularly interesting is the artwork on the way out which shows the different ways animators have considered depicting popular characters.
Voyage of the Little Mermaid - The characters from the little mermaid, including some puppets and some live actors, put on a show including songs from the movie. Basically a retelling of the movie, this show was fabulous and innoventive
when it opened in 1992. I do still enjoy a dark-light sequence with various characters under the sea but I think the show has gotten stale and isnt up to par with Disneys more recently developed shows. (Legend of the Lion King and Tarzan come to mind.) Kids will still enjoy the show but Im kind of ready for something new.
Playhouse Disney: Live on Stage - This theater features whoever the popular character of the moment is on the Disney channel. I saw the show back when it featured Doug and it was cute, but I cant speak to the show of the moment. This attraction is very much geared toward those with young children.
*Muppetvision 3-d - Although it isnt as high-tech as some of Disneys newer three-dimensional films, the Muppets have aged well and the movie is super cute. This film takes viewers on a tour of Muppet laboratories, where of course nothing can ever be simple. Bean Bunny decides to run away after he doesnt receive a role in the big show, and lots of Muppets are very concerned with his disappearance. I love the use of characters right in the theater. Kids and adults will love this show. The waiting area offers one of the cutest preshows at Disney if you pay attention to the monitors.
Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular - This isnt a bad stunt show, if you are willing to devote a big chunk of time to viewing it. Indiana Jones and crew maneuver through a series of scenes demonstrating different stunts and special effects. Adult volunteers are selected from the audience to participate in an action scene. The show is pretty entertaining, and I recommend seeing it now because rumor has it this area will soon be renovated.
Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure - Ho hum for adults, but I tell you this attraction was my absolute favorite as a kid. This is a big, fancy playground where kids can be shrunk to the size of an insect and run around in a giant sized world. There are slides, a giant sniffing dog nose, and ants to ride on. Its a very neat playground and there are lots of great photo opportunities here.
Lights, Motors, Action Stunt Show - MGM has greatly hyped this attraction in conjunction with the 50 Anniversary celebration. The show features a typical array of car and motorcycle stunts. Those who enjoy this type of show will think this is great, but quite honestly it kind of stresses me out. One actor has already been injured in a show earlier this year and I just get very nervous, although Im sure the stunts are generally save. During my visit this show was only playing three times a day so make sure you plan accordingly if you wish to see it.
Sounds Dangerous - This Drew Carey show replaced SuperStar Television, and as far as I can tell isnt drawing a lot of crowds. Carey stars as a detective and the audience sits and basically listens to his adventures after the camera gets blacked out. The point is an emphasis on the power of sound to tell a story. There are some pretty neat sound effects, and it is amazing how real the story can feel just by sound. However, judging by the screaming around me being plunged into darkness is unappealing to quite a lot of children so keep this in mind.
*Star Tours - Guests board a space shuttle to take a trip to the moon of Endor. Of course, it is the pilot droids first flight and things go a little awry when the shuttle is sucked in toward the Death Star. Im going to go ahead and mark this attraction as a must-see, because it is fun. That said, it is disappointing the attraction hasnt been updated within the last fifteen years to include actual characters from the film or reflect the new technology. The video will seem dated and a bit jerky, and the droids piloting this ship are generic, not from the movie. Despite this, the actual ride is still pretty fun and wont make most people sick. The height requirement is 40 inches.
Dining and Shopping
There are a variety of counter-service and sit-down restaurants at MGM, most of which are fairly mediocre in terms of theming, price, and food. My recommendations for the best would be the 50s Prime Time Café and Sunset Ranch Market. I have more comments on dining below.
Shopping, on the other hand, is fun at MGM. There are some great specialty stores here that depart from the typical Disney merchandise. My very favorite is Sid Caheunga's One-of-a-Kind, where you will find a variety of momentos owned or signed by famous stars. If you are looking for a perfect gift or souvenir and dont mind paying a bit for it, the signed photographs are awesome. Of course, the merchandise changes regularly as this is a one of a kind shop. I also love Tatooine Traders and have, in fact, purchased a stuffed Ewok there. My last favorite is Stage One Company Store directly outside the Muppet movie. There is tons of Muppet and Sesame Street merchandise here, and its tough to find elsewhere on property.
So Whats the Problem?
As I mentioned above, there are some pretty decent attractions here. However, I have a few main complaints about MGM Studios.
1. Lack of Cohesive Theming - Compared to Disneys other major theme parks, theming here is kind of random and unexciting. Instead of using the lands approach utilized by its other major parks, here attractions are grouped by streets. Mickey Avenue or The Backlot dont suggest a strong theme, so the overall result is a theme park that looks basically the same throughout. Like a movie set, sort of, but more like a movie studio which isnt the most attractive. I would rather be transported INTO a movie than onto a movie set, really. Especially considering there is no animating and very little movie-making going on at this site today. Some of the buildings are ugly and on the whole the atmosphere is rather unmagical compared to the other parks.
The side effect of this lack of unique theming for each area means you will probably get lost. Streets all look similar and this isnt like the Magic Kingdom, where you can just head for Tomorrowland and find Space Mountain. Even after 10 visits I still waste time wandering around looking for attractions.
2. Lack of New Family Attractions - While MGM has received several new thrill rides, there have been very few new attractions of the family variety. The bulk of family-friendly attractions such as The Great Movie Ride or The Little Mermaid opened between 1989 and 1991. Technology has changed a lot since then, but this isnt really reflected in MGMs attractions. The only new offering which I would really consider a family attraction is Millionaire, which is probably still confusing for little kids. This may not be a big deal to first time visitors as much but if you have visited the park in the last fifteen years you will not see a lot of new attractions since your last visit.
3. Time Constraints - SO many of the attractions here are shows, and many of them have their own set performance times. In addition, to ensure getting into the show you want it is necessary to sit through a thirty minute pre-show. Seeing a simple show here can take anywhere between an hour and two hours. This is a problem because some shows are offered only three or four times during the day, mostly during the afternoon. The remaining rides are mainly thrill rides with loooong queues. Seeing anything takes such a long time that it is virtually impossible to see everything you want to see. At the other theme parks, there is a better mix of quickie attractions and time-consuming ones so I think you get more bang for your buck. At MGM, my family frequently ends up frustrated about overlapping show times. Seeing three attractions in a whole afternoon/evening is a pretty good accomplishment.
4. Less Exciting Dining Options - Considering the movies theme, one would think MGM would offer a wide variety of cuisines in different atmospheres. Really, though, the dining facilities are disappointing. I had the worst meal experience ever at Disney at Mama Melroses. The service was rude and we basically sat in the aisle. As far as counter service goes, the locations are pretty uninspired. Do I really want to dine at the ABC Commissary? I have and the food is ok, but the atmosphere is a studio cafeteria. This is not very exciting. Most of the counter service options are themed as a studio serving its employees, in fact. This is as stark contrast with Epcot or the Animal Kingdom, both of which offer foods from various parts of the world in interesting settings.
Disney MGM Studios isnt a bad park. It is still better than many theme parks. If you have a park-hopper ticket you might as well go and enjoy the best attractions it offers. However, if you are contemplating purchasing a 1 day ticket for over $60, I would choose to visit any of the other three parks over this one. MGM needs a major overhaul and update in terms of its layout, theming, and attractions. As a result, I am going with a three star rating and encouraging you to check out my much more favorable reviews of the other Disney theme parks!
*Reviews of Other Disney Parks...
Magic Kingdom for Adults
Epcot Center's Hidden Treasures
Animal Kingdom - One Day Touring Plan
Downtown Disney Marketplace
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Best Suited For: Families
Best Time to Travel Here: Sep - Nov